A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts made possible the first visiting national exhibition, "The Far North," from the National Gallery of Art in 1973. That same year, the Museum became the first museum in Alaska accredited by the American Association of Museums, and voters approved a bond issue to pay for a 15,000 square-foot building addition.
In the next decade, with the flood of revenues from oil development, the state funded community-wide building projects. "Project 80’s" led to a major 140,000 square-foot expansion of the Museum in 1986. Funds were raised to complete the Alaska Gallery, a showcase of the Museum’s permanent historic and ethnographic collection. This Gallery remains a popular Alaska resident and tourist destination, helping school children and adults alike explore Alaska’s unique history and rich cultures.
As the facility grew, so did the Museum’s collections. The permanent collection now numbers 17,500 objects plus an education collection of roughly 2,000 artifacts; the Department contains more than 350,000 historical photographs. Operating beyond the walls of its building, the Museum is now responsible for the Municipality’s 276 works of public art, valued at more than $5.8 million.
Each year, more than 20 travelling exhibits from around the globe visit the Museum. Recent visiting exhibitions include those featuring works made entirely of recycled materials; an exhibit inside and outside the building by light artists, and Wrapped In Pride a touring celebration of Ghanaian kente cloth and African American identity. Travelling exhibitions are complemented by innovative public programming--community-wide cultural events, Free Family Days featuring local artists and hands-on art activities, and docent-led tours for approximately 15,000 school children every year.
In 1992, the Museum became the home of the first regional office of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History Arctic Studies Center. The Arctic Studies Center supports the Museum’s mission through research, education, collections and exhibitions. Today the Museum–one of the 10 most visited attractions in Alaska—looks forward to another expansion of both its facility and mission, to become the region’s premier repository and workshop for the study, appreciation, and enjoyment of the culture and science of the North.